ADHD: why it’s often not detected in women


People with ADHD have difficulty concentrating and are often hyper­active. But the disorder doesn’t always present in the same way. Especially in women and girls, ADHD displays different symptoms than in men and boys.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. People with the condition have difficulty concentrating and are hyperactive or impulsive. Because the symptoms can vary in intensity, there's no one form of ADHD.

Is ADHD a medical condition?

There is a lack of general agreement as to whether ADHD should be categorised as a medical condition or rather as an individual behavioural condition. Experts often speak of a neurotype or traits. Depending on their personality, people with ADHD can be more extroverted and hyperactive, more introverted and quiet, or sometimes very structured and focused.

Differences between girls and boys

Boys are more commonly diagnosed with ADHD than girls. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that girls are actually less commonly affected. The explanation for the difference can also lie in the fact that ADHD presents differently in girls than in boys.

  • Boys with ADHD often behave impulsively and are hyperactive. They have a strong urge to move and difficulties concentrating. They’re therefore more likely to be loud and stand out.
  • Girls, on the other hand, suffer from the need to deflect attention and try not to stand out. This is one of the reasons why the disorder is often not detected in girls.
Up to now, it’s been assumed that ADHD can also be partly inherited.

ADHD as a “boy’s condition”

Another explanation for the gender difference is that ADHD is known as a “boy’s condition”. Many people see the typical manifestations in boys as classic symptoms of ADHD. Such gender prejudices, also known as the gender health gap, mean that ADHD is often not taken into consideration in girls. Even the number of examinations for ADHD, i.e. suspected cases, is significantly lower in girls.

What’s the difference between ADHD and ADD?

ADHD is divided into three different “subtypes”. Inattentive ADHD is mainly characterised by concentration difficulties and easy distractibility. In some cases, this is referred to as ADD. In hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the main symptoms. Finally, there’s the combined type, in which hyperactivity and concentration difficulties are both prevalent.

Symptoms in girls

ADHD in girls tends to express itself more through inner restlessness and greater distractibility. Hyperactivity is less pronounced than in boys. Girls are more likely to withdraw. Again, these aren't symptoms usually associated with ADHD, which makes it all the more difficult to detect. With increasing pressure, this may lead to:

  • depressive symptoms
  • anxiety
  • or eating disorders

Early detection is important

In order to improve the course of ADHD in children, early detection is important. If ADHD isn't detected, it’s difficult for the child to integrate into their environment. Children with ADHD often have difficulties at school and with their social life.

How can the diagnosis be improved in girls?

In order to improve early diagnosis of ADHD, it’s first important to draw attention to the different symptoms in boys and girls. This is where gender-specific research, also known as gender medicine, comes in. If the symptoms in girls are better known, screening procedures and tests can be geared towards them – which will increase the chance of detecting and treating ADHD at an early stage.

Individual treatment

Treatment is as individual as the symptoms. Not all children need medication.

These forms of therapy can help alleviate ADHD:

  • behavioural therapy
  • treatment with medication
  • a healthy diet
  • exercise & sport

Adults are affected too

ADHD doesn’t only occur in childhood, but also continues into adulthood. ADHD is often diagnosed among children. But in many cases, adults also suffer from undetected ADHD. However, it can usually be treated successfully with behavioural therapy or medication, provided it's accurately detected.

Lack of attention

Hyperactivity is often less pronounced in adults, but this is made up for with concentration difficulties and impulsive behaviour. Gender differences may exist here too, with women displaying more inward-looking symptoms and men displaying more outward-looking symptoms. As with children, this makes it more difficult to detect in women.

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